Hello, you opposable thumb-twitching web botherers, you. Welcome to this week’s round-up of all the new release DVD and Blu-Rays. First up is Matthew Vaughn’s X-MEN: FIRST CLASS. Now, I am a fan of the X-Men films, even the much maligned 3rd instalment, Last Stand (even though its director, Brett Ratner, is – admittedly – a numpty). Yeah, we might have lost some of the characterisation that marked out Bryan Singer’s first two chapters and, yeah, it might’ve featured Vinnie Jones but it was wall to wall action and had some spectacular special effects and you can’t really ask for much more than that. No, far more unforgivable was the X-Men Origins movie Wolverine. News that the adamantium-clawed one would be getting his own film was met with unanimous cheering and then, later, when the news broke that it was to be helmed by a proper director (Tsotsi’s Gavin Hood) and feature real actors (Liev Scheiber, Danny Huston) the idea seemed to be that we were going to get a portrait of Wolverine as he always should have been; feral, pissed off and – most of all – unleashed.
What we got instead was a tin-pot superhero origin story (that had already been covered anyway in X-Men 2) and a whole lot of Wolverine pining for his lady (oh, and will.i.am from the black eyed peas, which, out of sheer bloody-mindedness, I have refused to capitalize, so there). It was limp, it was slow, it was unimpressive and it was unnecessary. Happily, I can report that X-Men: First Class is no Wolverine. But, it’s no X-Men 2 either (the series’ highpoint, in my honest opinion).
The idea of setting it in the 60’s seemed interesting and – as far as the bulk of the bigsuperhero movies go – something we hadn’t seen yet; in hindsight, apart from giving the film a real-life event to latch onto (the Cuban Missile Crisis) you get the feeling that the filmmakers only really wanted to milk the 60’s for it’s funky fashions and decor. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender’s casting (as the young Professor X and Magneto respectively) pays off well with both of them looking like they had a whale of time on a big budget film set – even if neither one particularly look like they will grow old to resemble Patrick Stewart or Ian McKellen. Fassbender, in fact, is worth singling out; his early scenes, in which he breezes from location to location being a multilingual bad-ass, feel coolly dangerous, even while setting up the film as something it never really becomes. The key problem lies with the other mutants; none of them really feel integral to the story, to the point where they almost feel interchangeable – would the film really have been all that different if a whole separate group of X-Men had been picked to surround McAvoy and Fassbender? I don’t think so. Most of these superhero team movies (even the unanimously derided Fantastic Four) find a way to involve the combined strengths of the team to overcome the villain and save the day; here, it is solely the Professor X and Magneto show and – while Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon)’s henchmen show some inventiveness and panache with their powers, the young X-Men seem relegated to montage training scenes and standing about (hang on… Sebastian Shaw? Didn’t he play Darth Vader in Jedi?). As the only member of the fledgling X-Men to get enough time to warrant singling her out, Jennifer Lawrence, as the young Mystique, is good, equally at home with anger or vulnerability, but again, problems raise their heads.
Mystique – in Singer’s films – clearly relished being on the bad team; she was creative in the way she went about trying to dismantle Cyclops and his buddies. But would Mystique – as we know her here, having grown up with Charles Xavier – really feel such guilt-free abandon when opposing him? I don’t believe so. And, of course, why – spoiler alert! – does Professor X end up paralysed at the end of this movie when we saw him walking in Last Stand? Of course, this is where someone points out that this film doesn’t belong in the same timeline as the previous X-Films, that it’s a re-boot that doesn’t represent the history of Singer’s team but the origins of a new, previously unseen X-Men franchise. Yes, true, but it was only decided that that would be the case a few months back when Marvel OK’d a sequel; the film still went into production and into cinemas with these unpatched holes. So sure, clear it up after the event, but problems still remain. Rose Byrne and Oliver Platt serve to bring things into motion but are then either dispatched or left with nothing to do and feel more like remnants from an earlier draft of the script than anything resembling fully fleshed out characters. January Jones (from TV’s Mad Men) has little more to do than stand around in tiny outfits and – apart from McAvoy and Fassbender – only Kevin Bacon seems to rise above his baddie role and have some fun. If this sounds mostly negative, I’m sorry. I wanted to enjoy it and I did to an extent, it’s quite funny and has a couple of good set-pieces; it’s just that under scrutiny the whole thing seems to come apart. So, what do we want to see in, I’m assuming, will be X-Men: Second Class (that can’t be right, can it?). Some decent characterisation would be nice. Some attempt to make the team members important to the story would be good too. But what I really want is for the Vaughn and his team, who swaggered into the superhero party with the anarchic Kick-Ass, to show some balls now that they’re playing with the big boys. They’ll never get away with half of what they did there, not while playing with Marvels toys, but they can at least show that they know the rules of the game.
As for the rules of the game, Terence Malick has been ignoring them, pretty much since the get-go. His 1973 debut, the masterpiece Badlands, starring Martin Sheen, used voiceover to propel its murderous road-movie plot, leaving the camera to pick up on the delicate slices of life along the way and his next movie Days Of Heaven – 5 years later – took a year to shoot (due to Malick’s insistence of shooting at “magic hour”, that is, the twenty minutes or so between sunset and night) and a further two years to edit. He then waited twenty years before making his third film, the incredibly beautiful but also fairly long-winded The Thin Red Line, in which he took nearly every famous actor and gave them approximately 7 seconds of screen time. Given that his first three films were made over a 25 year period, he has actually been fairly nimble of late, with The New World appearing in 2005 and now, right here, is THE TREE OF LIFE (although, to be fair, it actually missed it’s first release date waaaay back in 2009 because Malick was still editing it). It’s tale of a Midwestern family in the 1950’s interspersed with shots of the origins of the universe and early life on earth (complete with dinosaurs) staggered some critics and enraged others. It’s fractured narrative and time-hopping left many critics wondering exactly what it was that Malick was trying to say. Others adored it (it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes) and described it as a “visual poem” claiming its strength lay in the fleeting impressions it gives of childhood and memory. If this sounds like it’s for you, its available now, but one word of warning: While this has been the most divided the critics have been over a film in a long time, every real person that I actually know and have spoken to, hated it and want that small portion of their life back. So go, be bold.
And if you’re feeling bold why not check THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 while you’re at it. I found the first instalment (of what will no doubt become quite a long and wretched franchise) to be a lot tamer than I feared it would be, with next to no blood or gore at all. That’s not to say that it was a great film; so-so performances and standard horror level dialogue prevented it from being anything like approaching a classic. I just expected, from what I had heard and read (including, bizarrely, from my mother who started her phone call to me one day with “I just watched the most amazing film…”) that it was going to be seedy and exploitative but I don’t really think it was. However… I do know people who found it all too much to bear, including people that I didn’t think were such pansies. Apparently, it got in their mind, you see. Messed with their mind-grapes. And anyway here, for your enjoyment, is another one. Except this one comes after being held up by the BBFC, who demanded cuts before they would pass it for release, effectively banning it. The fact that director Tom Six has made the cuts they requested suggests to me that he would have made them all along and just realised that the story of his film being banned would do more for its profile than any press campaign ever could. Call it cynical, call it playing the game (horror fans have always prided themselves on how much they can take – if it was banned it must me awesome!) but, either way, its here. And to be honest, it sounds worrying. Its story revolves around a man who is obsessed with the first Human Centipede film (see what they did there?) and resolves himself to make the fantasy of the first film a reality. Now this kind of “post modern” take on horror is something filmmakers generally don’t attempt until their franchise hits fairly high numbers (even Freddy waited until film 7, for chrissake) and usually speaks of a franchise out of ideas and out of steam. You already know if this is up your alley, so enough from me.
Other releases for this week include Cameron Diaz’s bad taste comedy BAD TEACHER, Michael Winterbottom’s submitted footage documentary LIFE IN A DAY, Emilio Estevez directing his father Martin Sheen in THE WAY and direct to DVD star Michael Jai White’s TACTICAL FORCE.
In TV DVD’s released this week we get the 10th and final series of young Superman show SMALLVILLE. I’ve never watched it but the word on the playground seems to be that it started
great but is a fair few seasons past its peak now. DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES (is that still happening?) treats us to yet another season, all the while watching it’s own “Kill, Bed, Marry” meter sliding ever further to the left.
There are also new seasons of HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER and Oz prison drama PRISONER: CELL BLOCK H but my pick of it all is an exercise DVD put out by those young ladies from TV hit THE ONLY WAY IS ESSEX. I’ve never seen a minute of it and I don’t pick it for the obvious reasons (believe me; they look a bit – and I apologise – but well, a bit ropey.
The one on the right looks like she might smell of Hepatitis). No. The reason I have chosen it is because the special edition comes – and this is not a lie, so help me God – with a free Vajazzle kit with which ladies (or men if they should feel so inclined) can introduce a touch of glamour to their downstairs naughty bits. This, in turn, has led the producers of this fine piece of visual entertainment to put the following disclaimer on the DVD case:“Vajazzle kit not suitable for children”.
This is easily my favourite DVD box blurb since a volume of Spiderman cartoons once warned me about “Moderate fantasy violence and frequent Nazi imagery”. And, with that… I’m gone